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Page One Four One-Fiction by A. F. Knott
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Ramona's House-Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
Visitation-Fiction by Henry Simpson
The Night Driver and the Injured Man-Fiction by Roy Dorman
They Both had Guns-Fiction by Jeremiah Minihan
The Earl of Redcrest-Fiction by Ashley Bailey
Black Cat-Fiction by Stephen Tillman
A Place for Grandpa-Fiction by Paul Smith
Away from Home-Fiction by Bruce Costello
Dolls-Fiction by R. Peralaz
Bright Eyes-Flash Fiction by Jon Park
Heart Attack-Flash Fiction by Rick McQuiston
A Turn for the Worse-Flash Fiction by Maria Espinosa
Rain-Flash Fiction by J. Brooke
Specter-Poem by Chad Haskins
Blue Ghost-Poem by Michael Keshigian
Unfathomable Rhapsody of Psychosis-Poem by Dr. Mel Waldman
Late, Late-Poem by J. L. Hoy
One for the Road, I Guess-Poem by Jennifer Lemming
Edge of Nowhere-Poem by Robert Beveridge
Summit-Poem by Robert Beveridge
Three Tenses-Poem by Meg Baird
Caution-Poem by Meg Baird
Honeysuckle Breeze-Poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
Old Crow and I-Peom by ayaz daryl nielsen
Moments-Poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
Developing Land-Poem by Alan Catlin
Sideshow Freaks-Poem by Alan Catlin
Insomnia-Poem by Alan Catlin
Without-Poem by John Grey
Graveyard Stroll-Poem by John Grey
The Two of Us-Poem by John Grey
Cartoons by Cartwright
Hail, Tiger!
Angel of Manslaughter
The Gazing Ball
Strange Gardens
Gutter Balls
Calpurnia's Window
No Place Like Home
ALAT
Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

visitation.jpg
Art by Sean O'Keefe 2018

Visitation

by Henry Simpson

 

Lane first noticed the coyote one morning on the back edge of his property. Lean, with a brownish coat and upright ears, it might have been a dog, but moved with the light, quick steps of a predator. It paused once in crossing, yellow eyes staring at Lane; intelligent, wary, fearless. A moment later, it disappeared into the underbrush. Lane was sorry to see it go, a wild creature in his neighborhood on the outskirts of Ojai. He lived in a weathered 1950 house on five acres of what had once been an orchard. The rest of the land had been sold off to developers who filled it with oversized tract houses on small lots. Lane’s place sat on the eastern edge, adjacent to the Los Padres National Forest. It was a small oasis in an ever-encroaching urban landscape.

The coyote returned each morning so promptly that Lane wondered if it had an innate sense of time or tracked the sunrise. He sat in a ruined Adirondack chair and followed its progress and halt, again those sharp eyes, staring, longer this time than the day before, and it seemed closer, too. And every morning after that for a week, he was out there waiting as it made its journey, each time closer, its staring pause longer.

It was alone, and so was he, his wife in the ground, gone six years now, and his daughter away at university in Mexico City. He enjoyed the coyote’s company, however brief and remote. One morning, the coyote did not come, and he wondered what had happened to it. A cat had gone missing recently, predation possible, and neighbors had guns. He waited each morning for it, but it never came, and he lost hope.

He had not been sleeping well. Beside his loneliness, he had not held a regular job for three years. Before that, he had been in the Army and then a criminal investigator with the Federal Police. He would have stayed on with the Federales but was forced into early retirement. His love life was nil. He had something going for a while, but it went south with his career. He wondered if he was having a midlife crisis, laughed, rejected the notion. At forty-nine, it was late and unseemly. He had been in downers before, always pulled out of them on his own. He did not believe in counseling, drugs, heavy drinking, risky behavior, religion, or golf. Time usually fixed his disposition.

What differed this time was unemployment. The thought of how many of his Army peers had died a few years after retirement was unsettling. He needed to get busy. He had sent out many resumes, been offered and rejected jobs as a rent-a-cop, bail bondsman, repo man, insurance agent, prison guard, and instructor in a private military school for wayward youths. He was too old to start over as a sheriff’s deputy or cop. He considered becoming a private investigator but was not sure he had the entrepreneurial wherewithal to handle such independent work after all the years working for Big Uncle. Tired of waiting for a good job offer, he settled for a part-timer delivering pizzas at night. It did not pay well, but it was a way to stay busy and meet people.

His routine day consisted of waking in the morning, searching for the coyote that had ceased appearing, an hour of exercise, trolling the Internet for job prospects, mailing resumes, following up on interviews and leads, and lunch. After lunch, a nap, working around the house, reading, and then to work at 4 p.m. until midnight, delivering pizzas in a yellow econocar fit for midgets. This routine, tedious except for variations in the exercise pattern, was so relentlessly uninspiring that Lane’s funk only deepened. Asleep in the early hours, he nightmared existential events in his life: jumping with a faulty parachute to a paratrooper’s death, drowning in the frigid waters of La Tempestad Island, dodging sniper shots in Bosnia, seeing shadowy figures and hearing ghostly voices while touring bunkers in Berlin.

What ended Lane’s string of dreary days was a chance event one Saturday night as he was out delivering pizzas. Fatigued from drudgery and lack of sleep, he was waiting at a stoplight for the red to turn green. When it did, he goosed the accelerator, plunged into the intersection, and suddenly became aware of bright lights illuminating the inside of his coffin-like conveyance and the roar of a powerful V8 engine. The collision blew the airbags and threw Lane right, forward, left, and back as the econocar spun on its axis then crossed the intersection and stopped blam-bam at the curb; Lane stunned. His next conscious perception was an ambulance ride with siren blaring in the company of two alert young men in whites who were smiling in overwatch, enjoying the excitement.

They delivered him to a hospital emergency room and turned him over to a doc who examined him, sent him for X-rays, and had him checked into the hospital for observation. Still dazed, now sedated, his neck in a brace, he soon found himself alone, secured in a crib-railed bed in a private room, hooked up to an IV and vitals monitors. Through the open door, distant voices and footsteps of passersby periodically disturbed the silence. Eyes shut, sleep.

Now he was in a hospital ward, surrounded by bedridden men swathed in bandages, limbs suspended from braces. He felt numb from morphine, his mouth dry, a bitter taste, the smell of disinfectant and blood, the rustle of voices speaking German. Nearby, two men were staring at him, talking softly, as if not to be overheard. The tall, distinguished physician—white coat, steel-framed spectacles—stood at the foot of his bed, checked the clipboard, shook his head at the male attendant, moved on.

Eyes open, he was back in his single room in the darkness, with a splitting headache, remembering the dream—the image, sounds, and other sensations were absolutely real, as was his conviction it was 1944 and he was a German soldier like all the rest of them in that ward, dying.

The hospital came back to life at 6 a.m. An upbeat young nurse visited, checked his vitals and mood, and advised him he was doing well, Dr. Cronin would soon drop by to see him.

An hour later, a lean, fit, fortyish man in pressed whites entered his room and came to his bed. “Good morning!” he said coolly, checking Lane’s chart. “I’m Dr. Cronin, the attending neurologist. How’re you feeling, Mr. Lane?”

“Neck pain, and a world-class headache.”

“You’ve had a mild concussion, whiplash, and some facial trauma. X-rays show no fractures. I want to keep a watch on you for a while to see if anything develops. Stay here for a few days so I can monitor your condition, run an MRI if necessary. Has anything like this happened to you before?”

“In the Army, twenty years, I got bounced around plenty. Injured once during a parachute jump, broke my left arm in a fracas, a road accident on the Autobahn. Nothing in the last few years.”

“What happened last night?”

“A truck hit me in an intersection.”

“It’s good you had airbags.”

Lane nodded. “Do any hospital staff speak German?”

Cronin smiled. “That’s an odd question. Many speak Spanish. We have a few German speakers.”

“I heard men speaking German last night.”

“You’ve had a shock. Rattled your central processing unit, so to speak. This can have unpredictable effects on people. Ever been in a German hospital?”

“I was stationed in Germany and spent two weeks at a former Wehrmacht hospital in Baumholder recovering from a training accident.”

Cronin nodded. “Possibly you had a dream based on a memory of that experience.”

Lane had not recalled the strange hospital stay for years. Nights, lying there, he heard German voices, felt the presence of soldiers, had the conviction he died there.

“What do you do these days, Mr. Lane?”

“Retired, three years.”

“Do you like it?”

“Not much.”

“Retirement’s not good for the health, physical or otherwise. Depressed?”

“Are you a psychiatrist?”

“No. Depression’s a treatable condition. I’m making an observation, not a diagnosis. Consider yourself lucky to be where you are, with your faculties intact. You could’ve broken your neck or cracked your skull, scrambled your brain, even died.”

Dr. Cronin kept Lane in the hospital two more nights. Satisfied he was doing well, he advised Lane to take at least a week off from work, and released him. Lane taxied home, neck in a brace, headache and whiplash discomfort. On the answering machine was a testy message from Pizza HQ questioning his driving skill and judgment and whining about the high cost of insurance, now sure to rise with another accident on the company record. Pizzaboss had brought in a new deliveryman for the 4 p.m. to midnight shift. Absent from the diatribe were words of encouragement for a quick recovery, its tone conveying the message Pizza HQ did not expect his return. The job, his thin link to society, was now toast.

His twenty-year old daughter was studying Spanish language and culture for a year in Mexico. She had almost fallen off the grid, her emails and phone calls rare. He missed her painfully, hoped she had not fallen in love with a penniless Latin charmer or involved herself in local political causes.

After a week home, watching TV, bored out of his mind, he realized he was going to the dogs. In the mirror, unkempt hair, beard stubble, bruises and dark rings around his eyes, that ridiculous contraption still around his neck. To salvage dignity, he removed the neck brace and hung it in the garage. While there, he noticed an old chest of photos and mementos from happier days, carried it into the house, sat on the couch, opened it up.

The best days were at the bottom, Maggie, beautiful, young, dark-haired, blue eyes, a smile to end time. He was there, often in uniform, as feckless as she about the future, in love, entire lives ahead. Wedding photos, corny poses, happy guests. Traveling Europe in a VW microbus. Army buddies, some now dead in distant wars. Sifting upward through the pile, Kathy, their amazing daughter, was born, in myriad baby photos, and then growing up, birthdays, long forgotten playmates, school shots. A Labrador puppy, suddenly grown large, gone after two years, struck by a car. Toward the top, eighteen years on, fewer photos, after Maggie’s cancer diagnosis, she so frail, sallow complexion, fading. Back in the USA, Army retirement, the move to Ojai close to her family, and then she was no longer, no photos, no record of that last year, only a few shots with Kathy. He held the last photo of Maggie, taken six years ago at a barbecue in the backyard, seated in that ruined Adirondack chair, smiling at the camera through her pain, holding a glass of red wine she never finished. All the family gathered that Sunday afternoon, a week before she died.

He wiped away indigent tears, put the photos back in the trunk, closed the lid. No use going to pieces over history, good while it lasted, now gone. He put the trunk back in the garage, hidden, no longer an invitation to nostalgia, sadness, regret.

He reached into a high cupboard and took down his Army Beretta nine millimeter, ejected the clip to check it. Fully loaded, he shoved it back into the gun. This Beretta was an old friend of nearly thirty years. He thought to put it back in its hiding place, but for some reason unclear to him did not, took it to the couch and set it on the coffee table, stared at it. It was late afternoon now, getting dusk outside, the house silent except for refrigerator hum. He closed his eyes, dozed.

#

“Ed,” she said. “Wake up, Ed.”

Lane opened his eyes, aware of her sitting an arm’s length away from him on the couch. He turned his head left, felt a shooting pain in his neck, saw her there in white blouse and tan shorts—impossible—recoiled fearfully, unable to grasp how she could be here now. “What!” he said, moving away. “Who are you? What are you?”

“I’m your wife.” Her voice was Maggie’s, calm, soft, her exact intonation.

He forced himself to look at her: she was as she had been twenty years before. He could not take his eyes away. “How can you be here?”

She stared at him, eyes penetrating, holding him, shook her head. “I don’t know, I can’t explain.” She reached out, touched his forearm, warm fingertips then palm against his arm.

He shivered at her touch and inconceivable presence, pulled his arm away. “You’re not real. You can’t be real.”

“But I am.”

“How can you be here? Where have you been?”

“I don’t know. I can’t explain. I was waiting for you, and then, suddenly, I’m here. Let me stay. Don’t you want me to stay?”

“Why are you here?”

“Don’t you need me now? You don’t look good, Ed, honey. You should take better care of yourself.” She looked down.

He followed her eyes to the gun, looked back at her. “How can you be my Maggie? My Maggie is gone. You must be an impostor, or I’m dreaming.” But he immediately knew he was not dreaming. Her presence was too real, vivid. He could see her, feel her touch, even smell her perspiration and breath. “Where did we meet?”

“In Nuremberg, in a bar. I was waiting tables and you were with some Army friends celebrating a promotion.”

“Why did you give me your number? What did you say that night?”

She smiled. “I said you looked like a young man who could use some lessons in manners.”

He stood, walked to the back door, darkness outside.

“Don’t leave me, Ed.”

He walked through, took a deep breath, the cool night air, walked to the back of his property, and then back and forth, not looking at the house. What was it in there? Five minutes gone, he pulled himself together, looked back, through the window to the couch where he had sat, now empty. Whatever it was, gone.

He heard a coyote howling, way, way out there in the night.

#

She did not visit him again during his recovery. He tried not to think about her visitation, so implausible it challenged his sense of how existence worked. He assumed it was an hallucination or waking dream brought on by his injury.

Kathy called at exactly the right moment, assured him she was well, studying hard, not in love or pregnant.

He visited Cronin weekly, checkups, no complications. After a month, Cronin shook his hand, told him to go, no more appointments, drive carefully.

His depression lifted.






Henry Simpson is the author of several novels, two short story collections, many book reviews, and occasional pieces in literary journals. His most recent novel is Golden Girl (Newgame, 2017).




In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2018